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Pitfall! for Atari Lynx

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Hi everyone,

 

Since there is a lot of buzz going on right now, I thought it is time to consult with you.

The last weeks I have been learning to program the Lynx by creating a port of an Atari 2600 game that I loved to play. As the title of this post suggests, it is Pitfall!. Things are progressing really well, with a lot of the nasty and hard parts done. I'd say it is now 50% complete.

 

I think it would be really cool to release this to the public once it is finished. I'm not talking a commercial release, but a free for everyone to play. It would be a tribute to the Pitfall! game and a present for its 30st birthday.

But, Pitfall! is copyrighted. So, I am interested in your thoughts on this.

 

I prefer to go the royal route here and ask Activision for permission. After having spent an entire evening trying to find a point of contact at Activision, I found only a malfunctioning question form for game support. Does anybody have/know a contact person or email address at Activision for such matters? Also, the same goes for David Crane's email address. Found none, but would love to hear his reaction: would he be flattered, insulted, infuriated or ...?

Also, I would like to know where this would be going should I just post a .lnx file here on Atari Age, if all other paths lead to dead ends. My main goal is to allow others to enjoy the Atari Lynx and a classic game.

 

Some screenshots to prove that development in the Lynx scene is going on. If you are interested in more, I did a short screen capture of an early prototype, which is available from here:

 

post-27403-0-27253600-1348338599_thumb.jpgpost-27403-0-26972500-1348338600_thumb.jpgpost-27403-0-82419700-1348338600_thumb.jpgpost-27403-0-40094100-1348338601_thumb.jpg

 

You can walk, some stuff moves, but you cannot die, swing or fall. It is however fairly pixel-accurate except for the movable/dynamic items. I had some help there from an active AA forum member who can decide for himself if he wants his name to be known.

 

So, your thoughts are appreciated. Contacts at Activision or David Crane equally so.

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Great to see your project is moving forward! That is definitely a worthy port to the Lynx!

 

Not sure about that whole copyright stuff though... its a pretty bad field to walk into.. there's been this case of Atari taking legal action against some iPhone dev that was making a dedication to Battlezone. Activision isn't in nice spotlights either the last few years.. they tried stopping a big Kings Quest fan project even though they haven't touched the franchise themselves. Quite a dickmove if you ask me...

Edited by Ninjabba

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Nice work! How about changing up the graphics and title of the game and just avoid the whole IP/copyright licensing thing?

 

A couple ideas:

"Pit-hole" featuring Harry Caverns (or Larry 'Cool Cave' Trapper if the name "Harry" is too reminiscent of Pitfall)

"Jungle Trap" starring Junglemania Jonas

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If you are releasing it for free (as a lnx image), I would personally, just program it and release it. You aren't selling it, and there will be no damages to Activision, unless they are planning on releasing an Atari Lynx version soon. I know that isn't exactly following the letter of the law in this case, but... vintage gaming is sort of a grey market anyway. Asking them for permission and you have to be prepared that they will almost certainly say no, and then your work will be essentially for nothing (see Lode Runner for instance).

Edited by Shawn Jefferson

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David Crane was posting on these forums about a week ago. I think his handle is Pitfall1982.

 

Mitch

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I think it should be OK if its free and marked as 'free and not to be sold'.

 

I did a remake of Ghostbusters (using artwork from a previous remake for a retro competition that Trevor (Smila) Storey and Scottige did in Multmedia Fusion - for the GP2X but I cross compiled it for Windows. All sounds and music came from public domain - including instrumental which is on youtube and various other websites. It was 99% completed, there was a transparency issue with sprite (you have to look very closely to see it) and the streamer collision was never implemented.

 

Generally, if you aren't making money or producing something for the masses it should be OK - but its always a grey area. Some remakes have been squashed by copyright owners.

 

http://www.c5softwar...hostbusters.zip

 

 

gb.png

 

Z (fire), X (bait) are representative of the GP2X fire buttons, Q = debug add 1000 PK energy, so dont press it unless you want to get to the end quicker.

And arrows keys.

Edited by GadgetUK

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There's another way around this if there does start to become an issue with the graphics. You have dummy sprite data in your ROM image - eg. blank images. Then have a patch routine that requires an original 2600 ROM image and takes the image binary from the relevent offsets and replaces in the specific places in the Lynx object code, then people can create it themselves from the 2600 ROM and you arent distrubuting anything that's copyrighted.

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Nice to see the reveal here. :)

I helped with adapting the sprites to the Lynx res. The backgrounds all worked perfectly well, but the sprites had the problem they had used pixels with half height on the 2600 instead of square ones like on Lynx; resulting in the same number of pixels being double the hight on Lynx. Harry and all objects were giants and I tried to halve the vertical number of pixels and make it look as accurate as possible; still some room for improvement though. :)

 

About the copyright issue:

Personally, I think that Activision will not give permisson. But, for as long as you do not sell the game but release it for free there won't be an issue. To sue someone a company needs to have some gain from doing so; and there would be none here. No money to get, actually it would probably cost more to contact a lawyer than its worth it to prevent the few Lynx players today from getting a port.

As for a card release, that one would require some change in name and content; then again, a thinly veiled alteration would not stand a chance in court. Juristically I do not believe renaming a game and changing some graphics will effectively be accepted as not infringing copyright if put to the test; the only benefits of such a method are that you can say that you did not try to lure people with the Pitfall-name to make money and that it would make it a bit less likely for Activision to even find out.

 

It would always be possible to just stick with a ROM, and have Lynx fans get a repro made themselves via PMing the members who can do that, without actually selling it by yourself. Just private repros.

 

The best hope, and most likely outcome is that Activision (if not contacted and asked)will just ignore this port because it is for such a small audience it's not worth the effort and cost of interfering.

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I received an offline email from LX.NET asking for my opinion about the game. To be very clear, I have no personal problem with anyone copying my old games to keep them alive in the Classic Gaming space. But my opinion carries no weight with Activision. And I would predict that Activision won't even talk to you, let alone give you permission. There are two legal issues that you need to deal with, and while I can't offer a legal opinion, I will point out that most game developers have a completely upside-down understanding of issues like copyright.

 

You can't copyright a game concept. It is really weird, but imagine you said to yourself "I want to make a game like Pac Man." Copyright law now allows you to exactly clone the game play - even of a game that is totally unique. Blind Justice says that "If a person wants to make a maze game where the main character gobbles dots and is chased by enemies, he has that right. And since he is implementing the same game concept it is not only likely but completely acceptable for the game to play exactly the same."

 

What you can't do is copy the characters. Pac Man's copyright protects Namco's implementation of the "gobble dots maze game concept." You would be in trouble if the main character looked like a yellow smiley face, etc. So be forewarned... Game designers often have the thought "I have just come up with a truly unique game play... I think I will copyright it." If that happens to you get very specific legal advice, and ask very pointed questions about what is protected. A copyright doesn't protect the stuff that you think of as being unique... the game play.

 

For this project your bigger problem might be with the Trademark. Activision has trademarked Pitfall. Again, I am not offering legal advice, but Trademark 101 tells you that a company is required by law to protect their trademarks. Failure to protect a trademark can result in the loss of protection under the law. If some small non-profit group calls itself Exxon, and the big oil company does nothing about it, they could lose their trademark protection. Then another big oil company could start using the term Exxon as a generic term for gasoline (think Kleenex, Xerox, and Jello). Obviously an extreme example. But the threat of losing a trademark has made big companies act harshly over any public use of their marks, whether there is a profit or other financial incentive involved or not.

 

So I can't advise you on your project. But there are always legal issues to consider when making use of other companies' intellectual property. And in some cases they have to come after you even where there is no financial incentive to do so.

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You can't copyright a game concept.

...

Pac Man's copyright protects Namco's implementation of the "gobble dots maze game concept."

 

Wow, thanks for this insight Mr Crane. Even if it's not professional legal advice, you do know what you are talking about more than we do after all your time in the business.

 

I will definitely remember this, as it basically is the complete opposite of what I would have thought. It really is bizarre imo, but if that's how it works it's good to know.

 

It does explain how in Germany for example games like Dschungel Boy could be released back in the day, despite being blatant rip-offs:

 

o7o9stfo7kdx.jpg

 

One counter example would be though that Nintendo managed to get the Great Giana Sisters pulled from shelves for similarity to Super Mario Bros; but that may have been a European thing leaving American law out. I don't know the details.

 

Trademark 101 tells you that a company is required by law to protect their trademarks.

 

The trademark issue now perfectly explains to me why companies would act so unappreciative of fan games, even if they are non-profit and even if a game has not seen sequels or rereleases for a very long time like in the case of King's Quest and Battlezone mentioned earlier. I never understood that. For such a project to be made you would basically have to make a deal with the trademark owner, thus making it an officially licensed product, even if still free.

In case of King's Quest the makers were able to still release it under the condition that the Kings Quest title was removed, but with characters and all else intact; they got a license for it by Vivendi. When Vivendi merged with Activision, Activision cancelled the agreement but renewed it later.

 

So in that case, a fan game was even licensed officially by Activision. However, this was probably due to media attention in the gaming world; a Lynx game that would interest 200 people or so would not have that attention.

 

To be very clear, I have no personal problem with anyone copying my old games to keep them alive in the Classic Gaming space

 

...

Again, I am not offering legal advice

 

 

So, taking what you said into consideration (and I say it again, I am aware that this is no professional legal advice from you) this project could get away with being made if we changed the characters and screens and LX.NET did not use the Pitfall-name. So we could probably still transport the spirit, the essence of Pitfall. The big danger is to force Activision's hand by violating their trademark; they would HAVE to interfere then.

 

 

Mr Crane, I am really thankful for you to understand why we want to keep the classic alive and port it to new systems and to have no personal problem with it... and all the more for taking the time to help us by posting here. Not many developers would do that. :)

Edited by 108 Stars

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Great info there about trademarks and copyrights, I never thought about TM protection like that before so I can fully understand their behaviour now.

 

Its great to see the Legendary David Crane on these forums, you created some amazing titles in gaming history!

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Hi David,

 

Thanks very much for your insights and sharing your knowledge on this topic. I am relieved to hear that as far as you are concerned you are OK with this port.

 

Assuming that Activision will not allow me to do a port, I guess that in the end it all comes down to me either

- being obedient or

- finding the holes in the law (other graphics and name)

- being naughty and taking chances.

 

The last option would benefit the community with a pure port, the second a great game which honours the original and the first will at least have given me something to learn about how a game is built in 2600 and the Lynx.

I am going to finish the game one way or another. I still want to contact Activision, because "if you don't ask, you don't get". It might wake some sleeping dogs, but they will wake up eventually anyway. Who knows, they might condone such an action (I know there is a lot of source code publically available that have ported Pitfall!, e.g. Google on "Pitfall 4K Java").

Should you have a contact at Activision, please PM me so I can ask.

 

Thanks again.

 

Alex

 

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See, my view of ports of big name games is that the gameplay must be preserved and made free for future generations. There are many other areas of media that don't get preserved because of copyright and trademark issues. We as homebrew programmers can at least pay homage to the gameplay which we love. It's all about the game and playing it, right?

 

I say make the art assets unique and preserve the gameplay. This brings the IP law closer to your side.

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I seriously wouldnt even approach Activision - trust me, you wont get a positive reply!

You might be right. I have to stop being persistent and stubborn. Maybe in the end there will not be a contact available and I am surely not going to lengths to get one. Time will tell.

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See, my view of ports of big name games is that the gameplay must be preserved and made free for future generations. There are many other areas of media that don't get preserved because of copyright and trademark issues. We as homebrew programmers can at least pay homage to the gameplay which we love. It's all about the game and playing it, right?

 

I say make the art assets unique and preserve the gameplay. This brings the IP law closer to your side.

This might be the way to go. Still getting used to the idea of not using the real graphics. Call me silly, but I think it is so cute to see Pitfall on a real Lynx (and I tried it on one).

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Always awesome to see one of the original 2600 game developers chime in on a thread! (Crane's right, too. Activision actually rescinded permission for a fan game based on King's Quest that Sierra had already granted someone. Long story short, they're schmucks. Especially that Max Kotex guy or whatever his name is.)

 

My recommendation is to give the character muscles, use an upscale gym as a theme, and change the rewards to barbells and protein shakes. You could call it...

 

...wait for it...

 

Fit Paul!

Edited by Jess Ragan
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(Crane's right, too. Activision actually rescinded permission for a fan game based on King's Quest that Sierra had already granted someone. Long story short, they're schmucks. Especially that Max Kotex guy or whatever his name is.)

 

In their defense: They reconsidered. Possibly because there was a lot of media attention, but they reconsidered and gave permisson in the end.

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This might be the way to go. Still getting used to the idea of not using the real graphics. Call me silly, but I think it is so cute to see Pitfall on a real Lynx (and I tried it on one).

 

Just use the real graphics and release it as a free fan project. A lynx remake of the 2600 version isnt going to affect any sales on any other platform.

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Firstly, awesome to have David Crane hanging around here! I had no idea. Second, if you release the rom for free, you have no worries. The big conglomerates almost never get involved in this scene. Also, there's been a port of Pitfall! as an NES rom for years, Activision never made a peep. These publishing giants won't hardly even respond to established authors asking for photo permissions to put them in books.

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Release it with your ported graphics, and ported gameplay, and just change the name. Avoid their trademark(s) and I'm sure you will be ok... It's not the name that matters (to the community and fans), it's the game.

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In case anyone wonders why ive removed the Ghostbusters PC download link and screenshot, its to avoid negative attention from Activision should LX contact them about this thread - I know whats coming. The unwritten rule with fan remakes is if its not affecting their current or future sales, not advertised and only visible to a handful of people its not worth the effort to shut it down. If you ask for permission it will always be no - they wont even ask their lawyers as its not worth the time.

 

Put it this way, if they respond with a yes, I will eat my pants!

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